Growing intra-Taliban feud threatens to unravel peace process

By Sulaiman

Suhail Shaheen (right) of the Taliban's Doha office speaks to reporters in Doha, Qatar, July 8, 2019. On left, Taliban insurgents are shown in Alingar district, Laghman province, on March 2. [Karim Jaafar/Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]

Suhail Shaheen (right) of the Taliban's Doha office speaks to reporters in Doha, Qatar, July 8, 2019. On left, Taliban insurgents are shown in Alingar district, Laghman province, on March 2. [Karim Jaafar/Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]

KABUL -- Heightened differences between the Taliban's political and military wings have hampered the peace process and escalated violence, Afghan officials and analysts say.

Rifts between the movement's political and military wings are nothing new, but they have intensified in light of the US-Taliban deal that was signed last February, said Rahmatullah Andar, spokesman for the National Security Council.

"[Delegates of the] political arm of the Taliban in Doha have agreed to cut ties with and even fight against al-Qaeda, the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' [ISIS] and other terrorist groups, but their military arm does not want that, no matter the cost," Andar told Salaam Times.

Now, the movement's political wing has decided to do something about its military colleagues' intransigence, he said.

It has pledged not to host terror groups any longer and has guaranteed not to allow Afghanistan to be used as a launching pad for future attacks on the United States.

Taliban's emphasis on war

"When the Taliban's political office first opened in Qatar, some of their delegates were willing to negotiate, but others, especially within the military wing, emphasised war and intended to seize power through war," said Asif Nang, former Laghman and Farah governor.

"Members of the Taliban's military do not approve of the Doha agreement and disagree with the political representatives ... in Qatar," he said. That feud "has slowed the peace process and led to an escalation of violence in Afghanistan", Nang added.

Another reason for the rift is that members of the military wing consider "jihad" the only way to achieve their goals, he said.

The political wing, meanwhile, cites a Hadith that states that in war, "fierce confrontation with the enemy" should be avoided as it engenders losses, damage and danger.

"It is possible to attain goals and achieve victory through various safe tactics, such as negotiations," Nang said, quoting the Hadith.

"The Taliban's political leaders are not in favour of escalating violence during the talks, but their military wing has done so against the wishes of their politicians, proving to them that they are the decision-makers on the battlefield and that what [Taliban politicians] do does not affect their activities," Nang said.

"The escalation of violence by the Taliban's military wing has embarrassed their political representatives who lead the negotiations," he noted.

"The reason for the stalemate in the peace talks is that some circles inside the Taliban are waiting for American troops to leave Afghanistan before they attack Kabul and seize power by force," Mohammad Younus Qanooni, a former vice president, said at a February 14 news conference in Kabul.

"They believe there is no need to discuss gaining access to power through negotiations," he said.

"The Taliban's younger generation and its military arm say there is no need for peace now and that they are not going to negotiate," he said. "Instead, they want to gain power by force and give a token role to other ethnic groups, to give the impression that [their] system is inclusive."

"But the Taliban's old guard... say that war is not the solution and that it is not possible for them to gain power through war; they will not be able to maintain it," Qanooni said.

"That generation believes that negotiation and peace are the only way we can build a government with other ethnic groups in the future," he added.

Power struggle

The Taliban's military commanders say that, since they are the ones suffering losses in battle, they should be making the decisions, said Mirza Muhammad Yarmand of Kabul, a military analyst.

Members of the Taliban's military ask, "What business does the political arm have making decisions on our behalf?", Yarmand noted.

"The [leadership] councils such as Quetta Shura, Peshawar Shura and Miranshah Shura ... do not share the opinions of the Taliban's military units," he said.

"Personal interests and a power struggle have led to rifts within Taliban ranks," he said.

A number of highly extremist Taliban military commanders reject negotiations and compromise, said Sarwar Mamond of Kabul, another political analyst.

They see violence and "jihad" as the only option against the US and Afghan security forces and they try to achieve their goals through war, he said, adding that they would consider their 19 years of war wasted if they negotiate with the United States and the Afghan government, Mamond said.

They also expect a ceasefire and peace talks to change militants' minds, which would lead to disarray in their ranks, he said.

Iranian, Russian influence

The Taliban's military wing cares nothing about the decisions of the political wing, instead taking instructions from Iranian and Russian intelligence, say other analysts.

"Taliban militants who have ties with neighbouring countries and [with] Russian and Iranian intelligence are fighting against our security forces, and have no desire for peace," said Inayatullah Hafiz, a political analyst in Kabul.

They see their interest in continuing the war, smuggling drugs and receiving financial support from neighbouring countries, he said.

"Some Taliban groups operate under orders of intelligence agencies from neighbouring countries and do not care about the decisions that their political wing makes," he said.

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